LOS ANGELES — Unlike last season, the Bulls won’t have Nate Robinson, let alone Marco Belinelli, to rely upon with Derrick Rose out of the lineup.
The one-year fan favorites departed via free agency over the summer, as the organization believed that after his season-long absence, Derrick Rose would resume his role as the Bulls’ primary playmaker and scorer, a plan that was in effect until Friday night, when the point guard suffered a torn right medial meniscus during the third quarter of Friday night’s loss in Portland. With the former league MVP back in Chicago, where he will have surgery Monday, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said before his team’s Sunday-afternoon game against the Clippers at the Staples Center that he believes the team, not an offensive juggernaut even with the point guard healthy, would survive with Rose on the shelf.
“You always analyze (what) the strengths and the weaknesses of the players you have are, and you want to play to your strengths and cover up your weaknesses. So we know that with Derrick not being there we have other players that can do other things. It still has to be five-man offense, five-man defense, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses and give yourself a chance to win every night,” he explained. “That’s why it’s a team game. One of the byproducts last season of guys being out was the emergence of Jimmy (Butler). At some point, hopefully we’ll be getting Jimmy back, but I thought Jimmy benefited from the playing time. I thought he prepared himself well for the opportunity. I thought he put a lot of work into being ready. I see the work that our young guys are putting in, so I’m confident that they can step up and get the job done."
Like last season, All-Star center Joakim Noah’s role as an offensive facilitator will likely increase. However unconventional, Noah is the team’s best passer without Rose available and can utilize his uncanny ballhandling ability against traditional centers.
“Yeah, it’s one of the options we do have. Jo is playing very well for us right now. Defensively, he’s off the charts, and I think he’s getting more comfortable. I think missing the whole training camp set him back, but he’s playing at a very high level. And he did for us last year as well. We know what he’s capable of doing, and I expect him to help lead us, along with Carlos (Boozer) and Luol (Deng),” Thibodeau said. “We have good veterans in Mike Dunleavy and Nazr (Mohammed), and they have done a good job. Mike Dunleavy and Nazr have done a great job with our young guys. They come in every day and work with them, shown great veteran leadership, and we need everybody.”
Veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich will once again start at point guard, with seldom-used 20-year-old point guard Marquis Teague initially serving as the team’s primary backup.
“I expect him to do well. I think he has worked hard,” Thibodeau said of the second-year player, who has struggled with ball security and outside shooting. “I expect our entire bench to do well. Our starters have to do their part. I think we have to find a great concentration level along with maximum effort and try to find a rare intensity. But we don’t have to change the way we play. We’re built on defense and rebounding. We have to get our turnovers down, stay inside-out and share the ball.”
The soft-spoken Teague focused more on how the team would do and not his more prominent individual role.
“We’re just going to keep playing, like we always do,” he said. “Keep fighting, next man up."
Teague also expressed sympathy for his fellow point guard.
“It was just hurt for him. He’s been putting in all this work, and for that to happen to him it was just real sad to see. But we know he’s going to work real hard to get through it. He’s a fighter,” Teague said of the reaction to Rose’s injury. “We all felt bad for him, but he’s going to get through it. He’s a fighter and that’s what he does, but we’ve got to keep playing.”
Rookie swingman Tony Snell will also take on more responsibility with Rose out, as Hinrich is no longer available to play as many minutes as a reserve shooting guard with starter Jimmy Butler remaining in Chicago to recuperate from a turf-toe injury suffered last Monday, in the Bulls’ last win, over Charlotte at the United Center.
“I spoke to him (Saturday),” Thibodeau said of Butler, who’s status was listed as week-to-week by the team. “He’s feeling better, some of the swelling is out, but he still has a ways to go.”
The coach's "we have more than enough to win" mantra will be severely tested.